An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

Author Christine M Knight's Blog

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blog 6.1 - Barriers to Belonging and overcoming them

In this blog, I focus on characterisation and setting in 'In and Out of Step' as a means of exploring the barriers to belonging and overcoming them. Linked to this is the potential of an individual to bring people together and lower if not remove barriers through the use of language, thereby enriching the group. As noted in the earlier blogs on Belonging, Cassie Sleight, in seeking a seachange at the start of her teaching career, had also chosen exile for compelling, personal reasons. She then found herself confronted by a range of unexpected issues in her new workplace.

Tacit resistance to the inclusion of the women teachers in what had been one of the last bastions of male supremacy at Keimera High was a major barrier to her finding acceptance and her place within the faculty team. The cramped physical conditions in the staffroom, the hostile behaviours of her male colleagues, the related withdrawal of collegiate support and corporate knowledge about workplace practice, rioting students in her classes, and demanding workload exhausted any remaining reserve Cassie may have had to deal with further challenges. She didn't even have a personal workspace within the staffroom because of inadequate facilities. These factors made her feel excluded and contributed to her feelings of alienation.

So, what did Cassie do to overcome those barriers? Overwhelmed by the foreignness of the setting and without the option of returning home, she persevered at working for change despite feeling isolated and, at times, sickened by her situation. At work, she prioritised the obstacles before her, with survival in the classroom as the foremost obstacle to overcome. She then adopted a trial and error approach to problem solving in the classroom. She shelved everything else for the 'too hard basket' and avoided contact with the men at the heart of other issues.

Solutions to her classroom predicament were not found readily. During this challenging time, Cassie found relief from the compounding trauma of her predicament through the familiar ritual of everyday life and the developing connections with the people in her new world as well as in the weekly phone contact with her parents. This sustained her in her struggle.

'She saw little of her male colleagues beyond the blur of the rush (to and from class). Samantha shared a wry comment whenever they passed, usually eliciting an unexpected laugh. Rajes, serene in her progress, always took time for encouragement.' (p45)

'In the tradition of generations before them, George and Minna (Madison) had afternoon tea on the front verandah in the summer months. For Cassie, it was a period of respite from her workday stresses.'

Cassie made progress in dealing with the challenges confronting her only after she changed her way of thinking about and seeing the opposition to and exclusion of her. When she recast her students as individuals rather than as a wall of resistance or as a group of people who outnumbered her, she made headway in gaining control and claiming her place as a teacher. I've used wall here as it represents an impassable barrier. In this case, her mindset had been one of the barriers to Cassie making satisfactory connections to her students. Similarly, Cassie's ability to deal with the wider issues of the workplace grew out of her developing confidence in the classroom setting, a growth in her positive self-image, and her evolving sense of identity - all aspects of mindset.

Samantha Smith, another new teacher in the English faculty in a similar predicament to Cassie, functioned initially as a facilitator for Cassie in dealing with workplace issues and in bringing her into the faculty team. Apart from sharing her ironic view of their workplace through language when they passed during the day, Samantha advised in a shared time after work:

"At times, there is .... fellowship? You'll find it a lot better now than at the start. Talbut is inclusive not to mention incredibly supportive. Make the effort to spend more time in here in the breaks."
"I'll try."
"Not good enough. You're acting like teaching is a prison sentence without time off for good behaviour!"

In this dialogue, Samantha's perspective challenged Cassie's view of the men in the faculty, portraying the staffroom as a positive experience where there was fellowship, inclusion, and support. The scene illustrates that an individual can bring people together by reframing mindset.

The characterisation of Samantha Smith also provides a contrasting perspective on dealing with barriers that prevent belonging in a workplace. Like a number of women, Samantha viewed her sexual allure as coinage in the workplace. She used titillation to reduce her male colleagues' hostility to her presence when in the overcrowded staffroom.

Drawing on knowledge from experiences in other workplaces, Samantha targeted Mark Talbut as a potential ally. She relied heavily on her growing relationship with him and his status and authority as 2IC to gain some control over her defiant classes and to cement her place within the staffroom. She advised Cassie to follow her lead. For Cassie, however, the use of sex as coinage was counter to her character. Cassie did accept Samantha's advice to use Talbut as a mentor though.

Real change in attitudes to and inclusion of the women in the faculty team took time. It was the outcome of a series of shared experiences and developing rapport within the workplace. This is clearly demonstrated in the lead up to the Fickle Finger of Fate Award as well as in the scene itself.

You will find the complete discussion in Belonging: A Related Text Companion: In and out of Step. You can buy the companion from this website or fromAmazon



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    Wednesday, October 10, 2018

    Reflection on 'In and Out of Step'

    Wednesday, October 10, 2018

    Set between 1988-1990, In and Out of Step’s thesis picks-up on a period of significant change in Australian social and cultural history which mirror the wider western world. The novel reflects the popular perceptions of the era and explores reaction to changing roles and values, the relationship between generations, gender dynamics, and power in society through contrasting character perspectives.  

    The novel charts Cassie Sleight's (rhymes with slate) and her generation’s journeys in new and uncharted territory in their relationships: personal, social, and work after the second wave of the women’s movement.

    Life forces the women in my novels to reassess what they are doing, how they are doing it, and to evaluate who they are and want to be.

    Through Cassie’s experiences, the reader is entertained and provoked to consider the perceptions held and dualities of women’s roles in western society. That may suggest that this is a non-fiction work masquerading as fiction. However, this aspect is firmly set in the external world of the story and Cassie’s experiences.

    In and Out of Step explores:

    • how identity and relationships are shaped by the way gender operates and gender differences
    • how place—geography, attitudes, values, and culture—shape people’s lives and actions
    • the culture that supports and promotes sexual harassment in the workforce and social spheres
    • changing perceptions of gender roles
    • adapting to change in oneself and the wider world
    • the personal, social, and workplace influences that contribute to change.

    My novelsIn and Out of Step, Life Song, Song Bird portray the diverse and changing realities of women in the time the novels are set: 1980-1990, 1996-1998, 2000-2002.  The stories are anchored in the social and historical context of each period.

    Read more

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Life Song - a story of metamorphosis

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Twenty-two-year-old Mavis Mills first appears in my novel In and Out of Step. Outgoing, gregarious, and confident, Mavis is a significant secondary character in that novel.  Mavis' story - a subplot - is used to provide contrast to and insight into Cassie Sleight's (the central character) journey. 

    At one point in the novel, effervescent Mavis is severely injured – physically, emotionally, and psychologically - by domestic violence and the fire of her partner’s rage. He also destroys her guitar and the copies of her original songs. Part of  the subplot from In and Out of Step explores the context of the domestic violence and provides insight into the psychology of it. Excuses are not made.

    At the start of Life Song, Mavis is twenty-eight-years-old and very different from the young woman who shone throughout most of In and Out of Step. She is the central character in Life Song. She has become subdued, distrustful of her own judgement, and an echo of her former self. Unexpectedly, she discovers she has a choice: continue to live a life tainted by domestic violence or seize the opportunity before her and try to rise above her circumstance and, like the phoenix bird, leave the ashes of her past life behind.

    'Could she live the rest of her life as she'd been living. She couldn't, not now she'd glimpsed another world, fleeting though that vision had been.'

    Life Song is not a cliche 'chic musician on the road' story and is definitely not a romance. It is about the woman Mavis becomes and the people who stand by her as she undergoes transformation – physical, psychological, and to an extent spiritual. She does not solve her problems in the arms of a man but makes the hard choices herself.

    The drama comes from the tugs-of-war that Mavis has to work though. It is made all the harder because Mavis' heart is in conflict with itself. One person, no matter how strong, cannot win a tug-of-war alone. The same applies to Mavis.

    Readers learn about the things that give Mavis strength and that enable her to boldly embrace the inevitable changes coming into her life as she becomes Nikki Mills, the Song Bird from Oz.

    I recommend you listen to two songs from that novel: Sunshine Days and Life Song (A Vision Splendid) to get a feel for this story.

    There are many kinds of wins in life, most of them personal rather than widely acclaimed. It's those personal 'brave heart' moments that define Mavis. Reader feedback through my publisher and website is that Life Song is a gratifying read.

    As part of your journey in reading this blog,  I suggest you listen to Move On.  In my imagination, it is first sung by Mavis' support network, but ultimately the song becomes her personal mantra.

    Australia is a diverse landscape and has diverse communities. Life Song gives readers an opportunity to spend time in some of those communities. The title alludes to the fact that each character's life has its own melody and when sung in concert become the symphony that is Life Song


    Life Song is one of four novels in The Keimera Series. Each novel is a standalone narrative and has the backstory woven into it.  The Keimera Series is an opus.

    Keimera does not in any way allude to chimeraa monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature from Greek mythology.

    If you would like to lend me your support so that I can produce more music from my novels, you can buy any of my songs from CD Baby.  Each of my songs can be purchased for the very small price of $1.69. My music is also on iTunes and other major online music sellers as well.

    Read more

    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    The story behind my song 'The Flame'

    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    'The Flame' features in my novel ‘Song Bird’. In the novel, it is sung by rock legend Rick Brody who serenades Nikki Mills (the central character in the novel). In real life, it was sung by Funnie Williams and Thanapat Yarchartoen (aka Film). I produced the song through Karma Sound Studios in Thailand.

    BACKSTORY TO 'THE FLAME' - The Singer or the Song?

    In ‘Song Bird’ and its prequel 'Life Song', Nikki Mills - the Girl from Oz - is a survivor of domestic violence. Once an innocent, she believed the very convincing serenade of her first significant love, Terry Kikby. Long before Nikki met Rick, his song 'The Flame' resonated with her.  She believed that Rick's songs really expressed his own ideas and values.

    Having been at the top of the music industry for sixteen years, Rick finds his music is dropping in the charts. Defined by his 'bad boy' image, he has lost sight of his real self. Consequently,  his music has lost its connection with his fan base. Interested in Nikki as a woman as much as in her skill as a lyricist, Rick collaborates with Nikki on a new album. 

    Flattered by Rick's interest in her and impressed by 'The Flame', Nikki embarks on a relationship with him.  A subplot in the novel explores the ramifications of that decision.  Can she help Rick find the heart that his music once had?  Will Nikki be hurt or healed by the relationship with him?  The answers are found in my novel 'Song Bird'. 

    Readers of this blog may also find the pop rock song 'Masque' and interesting insight into Rick and Nikki's relationship issues.

    I currently have 8 songs on CD Baby and iTunes. You can help me raise the money to produce the rest of my songs by buying one or more of my songs at the very small price of $1.69 per song. They are on sale at CD Baby and  iTunes. Online music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer promote my music, but I only earn approximately one cent per one hundred streams. 

    Read more

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  • Christine's music update


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